Decision Maker

It's Time to Invest in Your IT Team

Skills to invest in for 2011 and beyond.

As we near the end of the first quarter of 2011, you're probably getting those new IT projects moving, allocating this year's budget and so forth. As you do, don't forget one of your most important IT assets: your team. But where should you focus? I suggest three areas.

Troubleshooting Skills
In my practice as a strategic consultant, I see an incredible lack of troubleshooting skills within organizations. That means when problems occur, those organizations spend an unacceptably long amount of time resolving issues and stabilizing the production environment. Unfortunately, troubleshooting skills are hard to teach.

You can, however, encourage your team to deliberately develop and refine its experience, which leads directly to more efficient troubleshooting. Have a brief meeting every month (and no, I can't believe I'm recommending more meetings rather than fewer) where you review the problems of the previous month and ask one team member to describe what went wrong, what fixed the problem and why the fix worked.

Automation Skills
It pains me every time I see someone performing some rote task, such as creating new user accounts using a GUI console. C'mon, it's 2011 -- surely we can start letting the computers do the mundane, repetitive stuff, right?

In the Microsoft world, that means investing in Windows PowerShell. A solid understanding of command-line administration also engenders a better understanding of the technology you're administering ... which leads to better troubleshooting skills, too.

I've been careful to write command-line administration and not scripting. A lot of Microsoft-focused admins have a huge fear of, distaste for or disinterest in "programming," and they correctly see scripting as a kind of lightweight programming. No problem: A major benefit of Windows PowerShell is that you can be extremely effective without learning to program. That's a main focus of the classes I teach, and it's a message that's been going over gangbusters with hundreds of administrators every year. Sure, for those admins who do have some programming experience and who enjoy scripting, Windows PowerShell steps up and lets them be extremely powerful -- but it doesn't leave you out in the cold if you're not ready to fire up Visual Studio, either.

Based on what I'm seeing some of my largest clients (banks, pharmaceuticals, telecoms and manufacturing firms) do, Windows PowerShell could well be the most important IT investment you'll make in the next five or six years. Some of my customers have documented clear returns on training investment in just a few months, simply by automating tasks and freeing up administrator time for other projects and issues.

A New Version
Finally, make sure every one of your team members becomes well-versed in the latest version of at least one product or technology that he works with, along with details on how to deploy it. Even if you're not planning to actually deploy that version of that product, get someone up to speed on it.

You never know when you may suddenly have to change your mind about that version, and having an expert on staff will make things easier. Also, the "skip a version" mindset might work well from a financial perspective, but it results in a huge skills deficit. Skip version 4, and your team will be even less prepared for versions 5 and 6, which will doubtless build on version 4. So if version 4 is what's new right now, at least have someone gain a basic familiarity with it. Today's cheap virtual machine technologies make it easy to create a test lab where someone can spend some time with the new technology. Make this project a part of each team member's formal goals for the year.

About the Author

Don Jones is a 12-year industry veteran, author of more than 45 technology books and an in-demand speaker at industry events worldwide. His broad technological background, combined with his years of managerial-level business experience, make him a sought-after consultant by companies that want to better align their technology resources to their business direction. Jones is a contributor to TechNet Magazine and Redmond, and writes a blog at ConcentratedTech.com.

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